If you want to spend a vacation in a remote, remarkably beautiful lakeside location, I suggest you travel down to Guatemala and spend a week or so in the lakeside retreat by the name of Panajachel, which you might really consider to be Heaven on Earth. The picture above doesn’t do it justice.
Back in 1936, an anthropologist named Sox Tax came to this village and lived there until 1940 because he wanted to study the social and economic structure of the 123 families who comprised the settlement’s entire population at that time.
Following his residence in the village, Tax went back to the University of Chicago and published a book, Penny Capitalism, which for me remains the most penetrating and incisive analysis of modern, post-industrial society ever done.
When Tax went to Panajachel, the village did not yet have any connection to the outside world at all. It was entirely dependent on the crops raised within the settlement and the barter between this village and several neighboring villages for every other item — clothing, tools — used in daily life.
The whole point of Tax’s research, which was meticulous to a fault, was to use Panajachel to understand how human society was organized before gradations of wealth and private property ownership created modern ideas and practices about power, authority, and wealth.
What Tax assumed he would find in this pre-modern society was a rough socio-economic equality reflecting what he assumed had been typical of social and economic conditions throughout the pre-capitalist world.
In fact, he couldn’t have been more wrong. What Tax observed in this community which existed without money and without connections to a market economy in the wider world was a very clear understanding amongst the villagers of different gradations of power and authority based on — ready? — the accumulation of material objects and the relative size of family homes.
Some families were just more adept at trading what they owned for what other families possessed; some families just spent more time and energy enlarging their residences, adding another room or a bigger porch. Some families entered into work relationships with other families which allowed them to exploit more land.